Racial Injustice and the Gospel

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:10-11

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.   John 13:34-35

Over a decade ago, working at a large church in Atlanta, a colleague and I were told we couldn’t address racial reconciliation issues because we were to preach Christ alone.  As a reformed theologian, I appreciate “Christ alone” when it comes to salvation, justification, and sanctification. It is by His work alone, and our faith that He has completed that work with nothing that we can add to make it more complete, that we are restored to peace with Him and to one another.   But as my current pastor says, that Grace frees us from worry, not from work.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  1 John 3:16-18

We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

However I feel about the existence of racial inequities in 2017, there are enough voices of people of color saying that is what they are experiencing that not to listen, not to seek to understand, not to read the stories and thinkers of color, is a deliberate choice not to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters of color.  If I react and make it about me, with an irritation that a burden has been placed on me that I didn’t invite and defensiveness that I am innocent, I am ultimately more concerned with self-preservation than laying down my life.

The truth is, in America and almost every country in the world, people with white skin are treated as superior to people with dark skin.  In Uganda, a country whose citizens were originally 100% dark skinned and today continue to be predominantly so, in every clothing shop we passed, we only saw white mannequins, because white mannequins sell more clothes.  The amount of money spent and long term damage caused in the process of straightening naturally tightly curled or kinky hair is often done in response to a standard of beauty that diminishes one ethnicity for the escalation of another.  These are daily experiences that don’t even touch upon the criminalization and therefore dehumanization of dark skinned people, the sense that they are inherently more likely to be dangerous or licentious.

And who has perpetuated these biases and who has the opportunity to change the narrative?

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted…Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:11-12, 23-24

This isn’t a pet cause, something that some people are into but all don’t need to be.  This is what God’s people are called to work for…dying to self so that others may live, giving up our comfort so others may find relief, being quiet a moment so others can speak, sitting down so others can stand up.  God’s body is equal parts of all His people, created in His image, to image Him.  That is not how the world has distributed dignity, honor, resources, power or respect, but it is the way God calls His people to image Him.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev. 7:9-10

This is the very heart of Christ alone.